Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Things Go Better With Coke: Spain's marketing

Spain has a strong association with Coca-Cola. So strong that it has been claimed that the drink was a Spanish invention. The great-great uncle of Juanjo Mica, of the town of Ayelo, was the inventor, says Juanjo. He took his syrup to the US in 1884, won a prize at a fair, and so was born Coke. It's a nice story, but it is, alas for Juanjo and for Spain, just one of many competing stories as to the originator of the secret recipe. The usual one involves John Pemberton of Atlanta.

A more definite association is one that was announced a few days ago. Coca-Cola is to advise Turespaña, the national tourism promotion agency, on a grand marketing plan to promote the Spanish tourist brand. When the news of this first became public, it was all over Twitter, complaints being made that Turespaña had not entered an open bidding process for such advice. The tweeting complainants had nothing to complain about. Coca-Cola, a company widely regarded as having one of the best marketing organisations in the world as well as one of the world's strongest and most recognisable brands, had offered to advise Turespaña for free.

I guess there is no such thing as a free can of Coke, but on the face of it, this is hugely positive news and is made more positive by the fact that, rather than engage some consultancy firm which would expect to be paid a small fortune and which might deal in the more theoretical, here is a company which deals squarely with the practical and has been doing so for years. There are few companies in the world better equipped to advise on marketing.

To be critical, one could argue that Turespaña, whose reason for being is to market Spain as a tourist destination, should be capable of doing this without advice. But apart from it being foolish to look a marketing gift horse in the mouth, it is also foolish not to tap into knowledge and to recognise that there may be others who can improve what is already being done. I applaud Turespaña for their humility.

Why have Coca-Cola made this offer? The company, so says the director of Turespaña's institute of tourism, Manuel Butler, wants to help the Spanish economy. Altruistic consultancy, it would appear. The cynic might suggest that Coca-Cola would be bound to be interested in helping the economy in order to boost sales. Maybe so, but there would be nothing wrong with it wishing this; the arrangement sounds like it's win-win.

Coca-Cola is, though, currently engaged in a charm offensive, one sparked by accusations that it contributes to the problem of childhood obesity. Coke is just one sugary drink that is going to be banned in New York from restaurants, cinemas and stadiums, and the company is now airing adverts in the US, designed to raise awareness of the need for exercise to combat the calories in all sorts of food and drink. Childhood obesity in Spain has become a matter of increasing concern, so there may be some public relations mileage to be gained by Coca-Cola, but this doesn't appear to have played much part, if any, in the formulation of the arrangement.

The announcement of Coca-Cola's involvement coincided with a preview of Turespaña's grand marketing plan at the Fitur trade fair. Based on preliminary work that included over 18,500 interviews in 17 countries, the plan has six key objectives, such as the geographical diversification of the markets which send tourists to Spain. Coca-Cola, a global brand, knows all about different markets, but where the company may be of particular value is in developing the use of social media. Coca-Cola, as with other forms of marketing, is a world leader in understanding how to harness the power of social media.

Julián Villanueva, associate professor of marketing at the IESE Business School, has written a case study of Coca-Cola Spain's use of social media. The case study is one which, among other things, enables a greater understanding of the cultural mindset of social media, of measuring the effectiveness of social media investment and of the need to evolve brands as part of the dynamic nature of social media communications.

My guess would be that it is the use of social media that is at the heart of the association with Turespaña. I have been critical of the way in which social networks have been used until now (not least by Balearics tourism agencies), and so having access to a leader in their application makes great sense. Things with Spain's tourism marketing are about to go very much better.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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